The world's first autonomous cargo ship, based in Japan, is facing its first real test as it gets ready to take on a 236 mile journey. It's the first step in a literal journey of a thousand miles that Japan hopes will result in half of all domestic ships eventually piloting themselves.
Japan's Nippon Foundation, a public interest organization, is backing the effort in hopes of seeing crewless ships make up 50% of Japan's local fleet by 2040, according to Bloomberg.
The first such trial run will belong to Nippon Yusen KK, who is setting up a container ship to pilot itself from Tokyo Bay to Ise in February 2022. The 236 mile trip will be the first of its kind by an autonomous ship in heavy marine traffic.
The autonomous global shipping market could be worth as much as $166 billion by 2030, the report notes.
Satoru Kuwahara, a general manager at Nippon Yusen subsidiary Japan Marine Science Inc. told Bloomberg: “When it comes to the automation of ships, our mission is to have Japan lead the rest of the world."
He continued, stating that he thinks there's a "real need" for autonomy in shipping because the country's workforce is shrinking and aging. 40% of the country's crew are 55 years or older, the report notes.
The Nippon Foundation believes $9 billion in savings can be realized by autonomous shipping and that it can eliminate many maritime accidents. “With the issue of Japan’s shrinking workforce in mind, there’s growing need for these technologies to uphold safety,” Kuwahara said.
Data will be collected from February's test run and the vessel will be controlled remotely, if necessary.
Kuwahara predicts "practical use" of the technology by as early as 2025.
He concluded: “We need this technology to be recognized, otherwise actual implementation in society won’t move forward. As a first demonstration, we can’t fail.”